The Barbz — the nickname given to Nicki Minaj’s army of online fans — are a force of nature. If Nicki is their queen bee, each member is a buzzing worker bee intent on protecting her majesty at any cost. No jab, swipe or Twitter critique escapes their purview. You can identify them easily, because their social media handles pay homage to Nicki’s name, songs and albums. Their bios often commemorate the date their musical mother bestowed them with the gift of a follow back.
Cracking the inner sanctum of The Barbz is a major achievement. On the periphery of the group is your average fan, the person who simply loves the music, posts lyrics and hopes for a sliver of acknowledgment. At the center of all the Nicki fans, though, you will find your true die-hards. These are the fans who have been there from the beginning of Nicki’s ascent, they’ve held hands with her in prayer circles before concerts, she sends them new music before anyone else, has taken them to special dinners before shows and, in rare occasions, checked on their personal lives.
“People really just wouldn’t understand and would look at us weird. The easiest way to describe us would be a family, literally,” Nelly describes. She has been a Nicki Minaj fan since she was 19, and eight years later talks about the pop star with reverence.
A more colorful description of the Barbz comes from Shaheed, 26 and Ayan, 20. With zero prodding, they both gave similar descriptions to describe their community. “It’s like a lion with their cubs,” Shaheed said. “A female lion with her cubs, you don’t mess with the babies, and Nicki is our baby.” Ayan’s assessment was similarly animal themed. “It’s like a mama bear type of thing. It’s like an instinct. You feel like you have different people that are close to you, do things that you really care about, especially people who in a way are defenseless.”
Nicki Minaj — one of the most talented, beautiful, rich and most successful rappers of all time — is not defenseless in the traditional sense of the word. However, across numerous phone interviews, it became clear that to her her Barbz believe deeply in what what they describe as the “Nicki hate train.” And, in their telling, it’s something she can’t always fend off by herself. That horde of adoring fans become hell-bent on stopping that train, in the process becoming staunch activists for their favorite famous musician.
“A female lion with her cubs, you don’t mess with the babies, and Nicki is our baby.”
To find out why these fans mobilize so readily for an artist who’s already reached the upper echelon of music industry success, a good place to start is with a man named Nick — the 22-year-old brain behind Nicki Daily — a Twitter account that boasts over 237,000 followers and is described as “the leading source” of Nicki Minaj news. Over the phone, he compares the fandom to the Beyhive, the Ariantors and the Swifties.
“I don’t go as hard as some people do,” Nick says. “So I can’t say why on their behalf, but I would say that just because they feel like people don’t give her the credit that they deserve or the credit that she deserves, for all of her hard work and they just don’t see it. So I think as fans we get frustrated and so we have to go out and try to prove to people you know exactly what kind of person she is, her accomplishments.”
According to Shaheed, the kind of person Nicki is to her fans is a caring one. “She gets real personal with her fans when she can. When she does you don’t see her as this big celebrity anymore. You see her as somebody who you can hit up and just be like, ‘Hey I’m not feeling good today this is what happened,’ and she actually listens and talks to you. It makes you want to fight for somebody that you know would do it for you.”
Unfortunately, for the past year, there have been many skirmishes to fight on behalf of Nicki in the minds of the Barbz. Nicki is embroiled in a cold war with Cardi B, which found the “Barbie Tingz” rapper claiming she never felt “fully supported” by her in an April interview with Beats 1’s Zane Lowe. Then in June, many people took Nicki to task for a cover story in ELLE after she stated, “I didn’t realize how many girls were modern-day prostitutes.”
Most recently, a DM exchange between Nicki and a journalist, Wanna Thompson, turned into a New York Times story after a Twitter critique from the writer led to a harsh response from Nicki and her fans. “You know how dope it would be if Nicki put out mature content,” Thompson tweeted. “No silly shit, just reflecting on past relationships, being a boss, hardships, etc. She’s touching 40 soon. New direction is needed.” In response Nicki, direct messaged the writer: “When ya ugly ass was 24 u were pushing 30? I’m 34,” Nicki wrote. I’m touching 40? Lol. And what does that have to do with my music?” Once Thompson posted the DM publicly to Twitter, the wrath of the Barbz was swift. In her interview, Thompson revealed she received thousands of messages over social media and email calling her stupid and ugly, with some of the worst even including photos of her 4-year-old daughter.
“People mention Nicki in a negative light and soon as we respond it’s, ‘Oh my god, they’re attacking,’” Ayan says emphatically when asked about the incident. “No, we’re informing you and before Nicki even tweeted the songs that refuted that claim and people on my timeline weren’t even attacking her. They were saying, ‘Listen you know what let’s just share some songs that touch on these topics.’”
Recently, the conversation for Ayan and many of the other Barbz has centered on where to draw the line when defending their fave. Once you begin doxxing, sending death threats or insulting someone’s children, the behavior of a group begins to look less like supporting an artist, and more like blind fanaticism.
“Where do I draw the line?” Ayan says. “I mean, death is definitely a little bit too far. I feel like that is a little bit too far. However, I also have that devil’s advocates mindset where the line is never too far for the person that is coming at the celebrity. Why is it that when the fan of that celebrity is responding that the line becomes too far? I tend not to touch on family either, death and all that kinda stuff, but I can definitely see where people are coming from when they do touch on those things, because everyone has their different boiling point and is it OK? No. Do I understand where the hatred is coming from? Most definitely.”
In contrast, Nelly’s answer circles back to the family she’s built through Minaj.
“Sometimes people don’t know when being a little extra is too much,” Nelly explains. “But yeah, I do think sometimes it’s taken too far, but when I speak on that I’m not speaking on anybody in my family per se, I’m speaking on the little kids who haven’t been around long enough to know better.”
“I feel like the type of artist that she is and the type of person that she is I really admire and respect and she’s really inspired me,” Nick said when asked what drives him to devote a large portion of his life to running an entire account devoted to Nicki. “I feel like I’m helping out with her and her brand, and help promoting her, and things like that. I try to be a positive influence when it comes to her, cause I feel like she does deserve that. She just really inspires me in life.”